Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season 8 Opens With The Long Way Home

The Good: Funny, Decent dialogue/sense of place
The Bad: A lot of the artwork, Pacing/plot
The Basics: Months after the destruction of Sunnydale, Buffy and her friends are part of an elite Slayer force that is rocked by the return of two magical villains from Buffy's past!

To paraphrase Dr. McCoy at the climax of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan (reviewed here!), "Nothing dies so long as we remember it." This type of wisdom seems especially germane in today's age when television shows continue after their fall in the form of comic books. There is perhaps no better example of a series persisting or being reborn after its inevitable end as Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Following the conclusion of the television series Buffy The Vampire Slayer (reviewed here!), fans were so eager for more new episodes that after a few years away from the series, Joss Whedon rebooted the series as a comic book series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight. The first episode of season eight was called The Long Way Home and was originally printed as five separate comics and anthologized now as the trade paperback The Long Way Home.

This concept is not new to fans of Joss Whedon productions: after the cancellation of Angel when fans were feeling especially cheated by the abrupt and catastrophic end to the series, Whedon and his cohorts appeared on the market with Angel: After The Fall. Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Eight has quite a bit to accomplish and is virtually unlimited, save that the Slayer is referenced in the final season of Angel, and Andrew and his cadre of Slayers appeared once. Given that "Season Eight" is starting around the same time as the final season of Angel, there is not much Joss Whedon and company had to worry about as far as continuity in this first volume. The Long Way Home is a good start to the new "season," though it is hardly great literature.

Following the devastation of Sunnydale with the closing of the Hellmouth there, Buffy Summers has relocated to Scotland. There, she and the eighteen hundred Slayers that have been organized by Giles into a paramilitary force operate on missions slaying demons, vampires and other nasty creatures. As Buffy frets the absence of Willow, takes orders from Xander, adapts to a giant (literally) Dawn and trains new Slayers, the United States military begins to consider the new Slayer Corps a terrorist threat. An ambitious general sends a team into the crater that was Sunnydale and there he makes a startling find. He recovers Amy and a companion of Amy.

Amy is set loose on the Slayer headquarters with her magic and she traps Buffy within her own mind with a simple love spell. When Willow pops up to stop Amy, she is exposed to a greater threat; a psychopathic and very much alive Warren. When Buffy is released from her spell by an unlikely source, Xander organizes a mission to save Buffy and in the process, a new villain is alluded to and an alternate Buffy, an undercover Slayer posing as Buffy literally in the underground, gets into a battle she might not survive!

The Long Way Home begins a season of Buffy The Vampire Slayer exclusively for fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Characters like Amy and Warren are only recognizable to the die hard fans, as are Ethan Rayne, who shows up in Buffy's nightmarish spell-induced dream. The thing is, the book falls short at weird intervals, in ways that make little sense.

So, for example, The Long Way Home is not bound by television budgetary constraints. As a result, the comic book can make ambitious leaps with "special effects" that the series could not. The final "act" in this book, with the impostor Buffy in the underground surrounded by demons and fairies is an excellent use of this unlimited creative format. So, too, is the inclusion of Warren. Warren, presumed very much dead by everyone who watched Buffy The Vampire Slayer when Willow removed his skin at the end of an episode, is explained as alive through Amy's magic. The reader is able to buy this explanation as no one truly dies in science fiction and fantasy. The idea of a skinless man walking around torturing Willow is frightening and would be tough to pull off on network television.

The problem is with the follow-up. Warren is more or less insane with rage and the thirst for revenge against Willow and one frame in Part Four (there are no page numbers in the trade paperback) clearly shows Warren sinking a scalpel into Willow's eye. Gross? Yes, absolutely! Appropriate? Yes, for the character. The problem is, when Buffy arrives on the scene, the tortured, near-lobotomized Willow smiles and looks at her without any damage to her face. This is a bit tough to swallow after seeing eye gore spurting up several pages earlier.

That said, much of the artwork is mediocre at best. Willow, for example, frequently does not look much like Willow and many of the Slayers, especially in the first few frames of the book, look like comic strip characters, not the quality of a $16.00 graphic novel! Indeed, on the fifth page when the redheaded Slayer is shown, she looks like little more than a stickfigure (literally!). Georges Jeanty is erratic as the penciler of the book and this is problematic for those looking for consistency or quality. It's odd that Amy is more recognizable in many panels than Willow!

On the character front, Joss Whedon does a decent job of re-establishing the characters. Dawn has apparently had her first sexual experience, resulting in her gigantism (she is about four stories tall now) and the allusions to her experience with a thricewise are funny and well-presented. Buffy is still whiny, but Xander actually seems more in control and is even granted a romantic subplot in this first episode that works well for him. Unencumbered by budget, Giles has a cameo and the appearances of the demons and monsters is pretty cool.

But more than anything, throughout the comic, Whedon returns his fans to a unique sense of dialogue and diction and those who loved the series Buffy The Vampire Slayer will find it remarkably easy to "hear" their favorite characters in reading the lines on the page. The characters are written the same way they spoke on the show and that makes it remarkably accessible. With the emergence of the new threat, Twilight, Buffy The Vampire Slayer Season Eight gets off to a decent, but not flawless, start with The Long Way Home. It will satisfy fans, but not those coming to it without knowledge of the series.

Still, it is enough to recommend and enough to look forward to the next installment!

For other graphic novels that tie-in to television shows, please visit my reviews of:
Star Trek Archive Volume 4 - The Best Of Deep Space Nine
Serenity: The Shepherd's Tale
True Blood: All Together Now


For other book reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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